At Aviva we know that a sustainable business must make a real contribution to the society it operates in. We depend on healthy communities for our current and future customers, our employees, our supply chain and our investors. As an insurer with over 300 years of history we are high on social utility, providing employment to 31,200 people and being there at the moments that matter for our 34million customers. It has never been more important for us to focus on creating social as well as economic value.
Why? Well, contrary to popular caricatures of ‘big business’, we are a group of human beings who care, and feel good when we make a difference. But we’re also open about the fact that its good business. For example our work around community development gives us the opportunity to demonstrate Aviva’s values, develop our skills and build loyalty in our brand. It’s also a gateway to helping us understand how we can further embed ESG considerations in our core business to create more shared value. I think business has to get a lot more comfortable talking about shared value in action, reporting it in our ARA’s, discussing it with our stakeholders, and not just telling stories about abstract charitable work in CR reports. In fact Aviva Investors created the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Coalition because we believe progressive companies understand that long-term value is enhanced by embedding long-term sustainability considerations into their business strategy and by fully disclosing their progress to investors.
I guess my dream would be an approach to responsible business that is not just aware of its social impacts but is actually measuring and managing them in order to extend and maximise them. Then being able to close that loop and create a virtuous circle where we can; prioritise the things that make the best use of our unique passions and talents, create the most material impact for our communities, and protect and create the most value for our shareholders - because the activity contributes directly to the challenges and opportunities we face as a business.
Easy to blog hard to land in the real corporate world! But we’re trying... and were learning. I find the ubiquitous ‘it’s a journey’ analogy very useful here. Surely it is no surprise that some of the world’s oldest and deepest traditions hold this metaphor central and sacred. Let me share an example by telling the story of Aviva ‘Street to School’.
Aviva’s Street to School programme has been championing the rights of street-connected children around the world since 2009. At Aviva, we believe that each and every child should have access to education...because education is insurance for a better life. Our Street to School programmes help children and young people away from the risks of the street and into education / training so they too have a chance to fulfil their potential.
Video - Watch more about the story of street school
Now the issue of street children is a tough one - its complicated and the issues are complex and maybe for that reason not many corporates go there. We did lots of stakeholder consultation and testing before we got into Street to School. It was around the time of our global rebrand we were looking for something to come together around. Something where we could engage our fantastic people in, something we could make a deep and lasting difference with and something that would show people that we genuinely are a different kind of insurance company – one that can recognise the unrecognised, and if we can do that for street children then we can do that for you. So Street to School was born. I won’t go over the details of the global programme, you can read them in our reports but we did do a few things at set up stage that on reflection have made all the difference.
We made a five year commitment and set a big goal that we didn’t know how we were going to achieve. This gave us the time and incentive – it set us up to learn fast. We have a great slide called the ‘moon shot’. This was how we charted our journey and it was realistic about what we’d achieve and the different approaches needed along the way. It changed shape a few times but always focused the mind and we made it public in our reporting too.
The moon shot changed shape (from a concave curve to a convex one) because we were able to actively manage the inputs, outcomes and impacts as we had set up a measurement framework for the programme that was consistent across all we did in every market. This was structured around our 3 basic aims (which describe shared value). First, we set up to measure the engagement and participation of our people and the impact this had on our culture and their pride. Secondly we listened hard to our expert NGO and public sector partners and we tried to understand what was needed in the lives of the young people to create real social impact. ‘Street to school’ works well as a snappy phrase but it’s not a simple or liner journey for the children! Also the biggest ask from our partners wasn’t for money it was actually that we shine a big yellow spotlight on the issue using our marketing expertise, so naturally advocacy work became a big part of what we do. For example the International day for Street Children that we helped found is featured in the video above. Thirdly we wanted to engage our customers and wider stakeholders using cause related marketing, not just to differentiate Aviva but also to reach them as potential advocates of street child rights. We set up measures for all of these and started reporting against them.
We had a flow of information from our internal engagement and pride ratings, the number of children we were reaching and the type of impacts we were having, and the business payback we were seeing in customer engagement, influencer sentiment, sales & net promoter scores, PR value and Brand tracker data. This made it easier to choose our battles, make connections and understand impact pathways, and to align activity and investment to core business challenges and opportunities. Now I am not saying we won all the battles, mapped and took advantage of all connections or convinced all the Exec’s to completely leverage Street to School. But we are at least able to have these conversations. And as we did we saw how we could stretch the programme’s impacts for our people, our brand and of course for the benefit of street children and their communities. Here’s a sample of stats and snippets to give you a feel for what I mean:
· Our original public goal was to help 500,000 children by 2015. Thanks to the help of our partners, employees and customers, we have already reached more than 640,000 children
· Our advocacy work has enabled us to partner with NGO’s, governments and the UN to get involved in long term systemic changes in policy (we are an insurance company!)
· To date, our employees have raised over £1.8 million and contributed over 56,000 hours of volunteering. 70% of our people in the UK said they feel proud to work at Aviva because of S2S. Our engagement scores around how we act in our communities and our genuine commitment are up 14% (well above global financial services benchmark).
· Our investment is also net positive for our brand with clear payback in value of positive press, reputation, customer engagement etc. For example some customers are 25% more likely to recommend us when we give them a chance to engage them via our award winning Street to School cause related marketing.
· Taking this robust approach with our totemic Street to School programme has given us the capability to do much better M&E across our wider activity. We’ve seen a significant increase in Aviva’s scoring in social impact sections of investor focused rankings like the DJSI/FTSE4Good, helping lift our overall score to a leadership position.
Getting involved with and maintaining a dialogue with such a broad group of stakeholders, from UK MP’s and the Indonesian Government, to tiny local NGO’s staffed by ex street children and then the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, has been eye opening to say the least. The system of change for these young people is fascinating and we are learning all the time about how our unique capabilities can play a part. Since conducting a half way review last year we are shifting our strategy from being a champion to being a catalyst. We don’t want to ‘own the space’ we want to be honest about all that we are and all that we are not. We want to share what we’ve learnt so that others can learn from our mistakes and/or take the best evidence based models and scale them up further. This leads to all sorts of interesting and fruitful collaborations:
· Research has emerged as a big theme. Any good business makes decision based on customer insight but often this insight is lacking around issues of street connection and children. Following our work with the UN on recommendations for states and others working with street children we’ve worked closely with academics and researches like Dr Thomas de Benitez “to ensure that children, as experts of their own lives, participate in information gathering, analysis and dissemination of research”. Carefully listening to the voice of the beneficiaries in our projects means we can have a much greater and more sustained impact. We’re embedding this methodology to monitor our impact, share learning and spread capability among NGOs and wider funders. By deliberately paying attention to unintended consequences we’ve had some invaluable surprises. It’ s pretty obvious but think about it, as a funder you ask for impact data and of course you only get back what you asked for (the beans you wanted counting!?), and its mostly good news because you are paying! What if we actually asked the young people what they thought. Well, they told us that the programmes were making a big difference to them, their confidence and education. – great. But, whilst we ask for oodles of data that takes the NGO loads of effort to produce we are robbing the kids of the thing they value above everything... time with a consistent, caring and trusted adult who listens to and guides them – ouch. We’d never have learned that without participatory research. Our social impact would still have looked good on paper but been much poorer in the lived lives of our beneficiaries.
· When there’s some humility and authenticity to corporate work on social impact all sorts of other parties are up for playing as ‘team’. For example, every five minutes a child in the UK runs away. Aviva, Railway Children and Mumsnet have created an online space that helps parents with this challenge. For every interaction on the Mumsnet site, Aviva is donating £2 to Railway Children to help vulnerable young people at risk on Britain’s streets.“Mumsnet is delighted to be working with Railway Children and Aviva. Together, we provide help and advice for any parent who is concerned that their child is bottling up worries that could make them run away.”Carrie Longton, Mumsnet Co-Founder. Oh by the way, if you do a social media campaign and you get Stephen Fry and Ricky Gervias retweeting, get ready for it to get big!
· When advocacy and collaboration wraps in the public sector you might have a chance at blowing all your impact targets out of the water plus the social impact has the best chance of being sustainable. This is the next big challenge for us and we’ve already seen some great headway in the UK, India, Indonesia, China etc. Down the line this may bring in the question own who ‘owns’ that impact. Speaking as a human being who loves to make a difference, if the corporate is already net positive on its investment, does it really matter... it is ‘shared’ value after all.